What's Wrong With America's Dream Colleges

Last Updated Mar 25, 2011 6:56 PM EDT

When I looked at The Princeton Review's newly released lists of America's most popular dream colleges, I Stanford University buildingimmediately saw a problem.

Before I explain why, take a look at the dream colleges that teenagers and parents cited most often.

Teenagers' Dream Colleges

  1. Stanford University
  2. Harvard University
  3. New York University
  4. Princeton University
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  6. Yale University
  7. UCLA
  8. University of Pennsylvania
  9. University of Southern California
  10. University of California, Berkeley.

Parents' Dream Colleges

  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Yale University
  • Duke University
  • Brown University
  • New York University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Northwestern University

What Wrong with the Dream School Lists

I find these lists troubling and here's why: I'd aruge that the responses show a serious lack of imagination and downright laziness.

It's easy to mention Ivy League schools when a pollster asks about dream colleges because everybody knows they are prestigious. It's also easy to include NYU as a dream school because how cool would it be to attend college in New York City? And lots of teenagers would love to attend college on the West Coast where it offers beaches, sunshine and lots of winning sports teams.

However, if I gave teens and parents a quiz that simply asked them to name just five things about their dream schools that makes these institutions smart academic choices, I bet the vast majority of people would flunk.

Picking Colleges the Wrong Way

Unfortunately, many families select schools without much thought. I find this strange since parents and their children have essentially spent 18 years getting ready for college and yet when they have to finally make important decisions they punt.

Children add dream schools to their list because they'd look good on a sweatshirt, but in reality they know very little about these schools, which the vast majority of them aren't going to get into anyway. Instead these teens take the path of least resistance. Most end up going to schools 50 to 100 miles away without exploring other options.

It's a shame that parents and teens don't put more effort into developing a college list since there are so many wonderful colleges scattered across the country with excellent programs that people don't even know exist.

Attending a College Fair

I attended San Diego's biggest annual college fair yesterday and I spent most of my time talking to representatives of schools that aren't on people's dream list and that most people haven't heard of. I avoided the crowds that were clustered around schools like University of Southern California, University of Michigan and University of California campuses.

Here are a few things that I learned: I found out, for instance, that Webster University in St. Louis, which is known for its theater arts, places a 100% of its graduates in technical theater design program. I discovered that Bryant University in Rhode Island is so proud of its campus that it will pay half of the airfare for students from other parts of the country to visit.

I learned that Weber State University in Ogden, UT, welcomes students with mediocre grades, who might otherwise be limited to community colleges, and provides lots of remedial support to these kids. I learned that University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, has accelerated dental and pharmacy programs for undergrads that can cut the cost of these professional programs.

You too can learn a lot and discover many wonderful academic choices if you stop dreaming and start asking your own questions.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
Dream colleges image by Harshil.Shah. CC 2.0.

More on CBS MoneyWatch:

The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of
Winning College Fair Etiquette

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